We can’t discount Sean Rodriguez. Not yet. He is what he is: a league average shortstop at best and fits better as a super-versatile utilityman. Can the Rays do better than that at the shortstop? I am confident in Reid Brignac that he can do just that. But we have to appreciate what we have here in Rodriguez.
Shortstops in the major leagues in 2011 had a 94 tOPS+, meaning that their OPS adjusted to ballpark was 94% of the league average. The league line for shortstops was .263/.317/.380. Rodriguez’s OPS+ was 94 as well. His line was .223/.323/.357 and his OPS+ was only so high because he plays in the pitcher-friendly Tropicana Field. Rodriguez did have a little above-average pop as his ISO was .134 compared to the .117 average for shortstops and his walk rate was significantly better, 8.7% of his plate appearances compared to the 6.8% league average for shortstops, but the problem was Rodriguez’s batting average. However, anyone who claims to know anything about baseball statistics would point out the flaws with batting average as a stat to evaluate players. They’ll point to BAbip, batting average on balls in play, basically a lurking variable for batting average. Those people would seem to be vindicated by the fact that Rodriguez’s BAbip was just .268 in 2011 compared to the .295 league mark and .298 mark for shortstops. One major problem: Rodriguez simply could not hit the ball hard. Just 16% of Rodriguez’s batted balls were line drives (16% LD%) in 2011 compared to the 18% league average. His line drive percentage ranked just 183rd among MLB players with a minimum of 400 plate appearances. Amplifying Rodriguez’s problem, 20% of his flyballs were pop-ups on the infield (IF/FB%), 19th-highest among MLB players with a minimum of 400 PA’s. Rodriguez’s IF/FB% was just 14% in 2010, but his LD% was still a below-average 17%. Sean Rodriguez is simply not a good enough pure hitter.
And then there’s Rodriguez’s speed. In 2011, Rodriguez stole just 11 bases in 18 tries after stealing 13 in 16 tries in 2010. In 2011, the league average stolen base success rate was 72.2% and players stole .018 bases per plate appearacne. For shortstops, their success rate was a bit lower at 71.6%, but they stole .024 bases per game. Rodriguez’s success rate has been 68.6% the past two seasons and he has stolen 0.25 stolen bases per plate appearance. He’s sub-par both in success rate and not above-average enough in SB/G. We know that speed does not only manifest itself in terms of steals, though. The league average was .019 double plays grounded into per plate appearance and for shortstops it was .018. Rodriguez was at .018 as well, and he actually was exactly the league average to three significant figures (.0183). Rodriguez’s speed is simply average for a shortstop and does not help offset his below-average pure hitting ability.
And then there’s Rodriguez’s defense. Overall, Rodriguez is a good defender, worth a 5.2 UZR and 1.3 FRAA (average for both is 0.0) in 2011 and a 7.6 UZR and 3.9 FRAA in 2010. One problem: Rodriguez’s play specifically at shortstop. Rodriguez posted just a -0.9 UZR there in 2011. But it’s not just that. Watching Rodriguez at shortstop, his motions simply aren’t fluid at the position even after playing there so often this past season. He may have the arm strength the position requires, but he’s an average defender there at best.
Sean Rodriguez is a tick below-average big league shortstop. We can’t underestimate Rodriguez because there are too many terrible shortstops the Rays have had in the past and that we see around the league, but his upside in every facet of the game is nothing special. If necessary, the Rays will plug Rodriguez back into a starting role. But I fully expect them to give Reid Brignac a shot because he has the upside of an above-average major league shortstop in terms of hitting, power, and defense while contributing average speed. Rodriguez simply can’t match that.
Sean Rodriguez is still a valuable major league player. He can play everywhere. The past two seasons, Rodriguez has seen time at every position other than catcher and pitcher, and he’s a decent hitter with the ability to play at least halfway-decent defense everywhere and even play above-average defensively at several positions (second base, and all four corner positions). Putting Rodriguez in a utility role gives him the best opportunity to show off his best asset, his versatility.
I predict Rodriguez to still get quite a bit of playing time in 2011, getting 300 plate appearances while playing seven positions, and I predict a slight uptick in his numbers, a .240/.320/.375 line with 13 doubles, 3 triples, 5 home runs, and 10 steals in 13 attempts. Sean Rodriguez’s versatility is a great talent for him and something we can’t take for granted. But he simply isn’t a good enough all-around player otherwise to warrant taking a starting job from Reid Brignac, a player with significantly more upside.